PEMPHIS ACIDULA – PEARLS IN THE TROPICS
Pemphis is a shrub living near the sea shore of Indonesian, Philippine and Pacific archipdagoes It is believed to grow from the island of Okinawa down to the northern coast of the Australian continent In any case, the rocky shore is its homeland.
The Pemphis has small oval leaves with pointed tips and small white flowers. Many tiny seeds are hidden inside the berries. Then the berries ripen, usually within six weeks, they open and throw out all of the tiny seeds. Helped by strong winds near the sea, the seeds are scattered Seeds that land in normal soil will tend to rot and die Some may rest between rocks or in rock openings. Aided by regular sea breezes and light ocean spray these seeds will grow. Some others that fall in the sand and receive regular watering will also grow well. The Pemphis requires alternating conditions of a wet and dry environment. The hard fibrous seed will soften in these conditions enabling it to sprout. Its roots need the same conditions Water and good drainage are essential Because of the seeds’ strong fibrous coats, those which fall into the ocean can safely float for weeks until they reach the shore, sometimes a great distance from their
Bonsai lovers in Indonesia started working with Pemphis in the 1980s, but surdy it had been trained by Japanese or Taiwanese bonsai artists long before as bantige from the Philippines. I once saw a Pemphis on the cover of a bonsai album and was impressed, not only by the beauty of its small leaves, but its naturally strong wood which does not decay in the tropical setting It is therefore excellent for jin and shari elements in bonsai design.
Thousands of islands in Indonesia, mostly formed from volcanic materials and rock, are the ideal hunting grounds for wild Pemphis, locally known as santigi in Indonesia.
Newly collected Pemphis from the wild are usually planted in pure volcanic sand. They are placed in the shade for several weeks, and sometimes they are covered with transparent plastic bags to maintain high humidity. Showering the plants with water several times a day will increase the probability of the newly collected and planted Pemphis to survive when new buds are strong the Pemphis plants can be moved to a sunnier location. This is also the time to fertilize and to spray the plants with salt water. The salt water can be taken from the sea or can be a solution of tap water and salt from the kitchen. This will make the tree stronger and healthier although the plants will survive without using salt water.
Once the trees are strong and healthy it is time to start wiring and shaping them into bonsai It usually takes only six months to a year to develop a nice Pemphis bonsai from good collected stock. This is when we can move the collected Pemphis into bonsai pots. The sand must be washed away from the root systems by using a high pressure hose spray Care must be taken to avoid damaging the finer roots too much. The bonsai mix can be 75% sand to 25% humus I always add a dry pesticide in the soil I use Fumdan, a purple granulated pesticide, to kill nematodes.
The Pemphis is a greedy plant As a bonsai, it needs a lot of sun, good air circulation and regular fertilizing. They also require frequent spraying of insecticide. Some caterpillars will eat the leaves Some tiny white or yellow bugs will attach themselves on the back sides of leaves and suck the liquid, making the leaves dry and causing branch die back. A kind of wasp will lay eggs in the wood of the branch or twig, so that the larvae will eat the wood inside and kill the branch. These are only some of the pests which
make routine spraying with insecticide a must.
The Pemphis tolerates dirty water from a ditch or swampy area.
Pemphis can be trained into various bonsai styles and sizes. The tiny leaves are well suited for small size bonsai, and the tree’s ability to grow up to three meters in the wild make them perfect for yamadori specimen bonsai. Some Pemphis in nature display dead wood that can be present in even in harsh wet weather, enabling us to create designs with jin and shari. Pemphis bonsai are really breathtaking It is not an exaggeration when I refer to the Pemphis acidula as “the pearl of the tropics.”